Kyo Ya, NYC

April 18, 2011

Linda and I went to Kyo Ya, for the first time, to celebrate her birthday on March 24, 2011. It is down an unmarked staircase in the East Village, but the interior is nicely done in warm wood finishes.

We were in the front room, which can seat twelve diners at tables.  In the photo from our table is a counter for diners without reservations. The turnover there was quite rapid as people ordered just one or two plates. Beyond that on the right is a counter by the area where the chef is working. Opposite is a single semi-private room for small groups. The other diners were all young Japanese when we arrived, but the later arrivals were varied.

I had reserved the March Kaiseki menu in advance, so the printed menu for our meal was already on our table. We discussed the sake menu with our charming waitress. She brought out bottles of three which she recommended so we could taste them. We ordered a bottle of:


It was elegant and refreshing, an excellent way to start and to accompany the early courses.

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“Zatsuki” – First Course
Unagi Hakata Pan

Smoked eel was the filling for this little hors d’oeuvre sandwich between rice wafers. Nice.

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“Sakizuke” – Second Course
Home Made Sesame Tofu, Sea Urchin, Botan Shrimp
and Vegetables in Kuzu Dashi Sauce

The sakizuke is the traditional opening course. The dashi had been thickened with a starch made from a kudzu vine and then chilled to a gel which bound and flavored the other cool ingredients. The same starch is used for the sesame tofu which dominated the dish. The seafood was in the background. A refreshing start with good typical flavors.

“Oshinogi” – Third Course
Hamaguri” Cherry Stone Clam Sushi

The large, chewy, flavorful meat of a “venus” clam topped quite vinegary sushi rice.

“Owan” – Fourth Course
Simmered Hakusai Potage with Chicken Meat Ball

This was a thick cabbage broth, which, along with the chicken meat ball, seemed like Japanese winter comfort food.

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“Zensai” – Fifth Course
Alaskan King Crab
Crispy Fried Baby Horse Mackerel
“Kasutera” Baked Egg Cake
Fresh “Udo” Vegetable Stick
“Karashi” Mustered Flavored Broccoli Rabe

The Zensai, or appetizer course, is usually served earlier in a Kaiseki meal. The mackerel had been coated in rice puffs before frying. The stalks were udo, a Japanese vegetable similar to asparagus; they were dipped in miso paste. Kasutera is a Castella Portuguese egg-based sponge cake, introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century. Although unfocussed, which is typical for this course, the Zensai was enjoyable and woke up our palates after the soup.

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“Otsukuri” -Sixth Course
Sashimi of the Day ~ Chefs Selection


This course included a “pre-sashimi” of an oyster with a little pitcher of sauce. Since Linda doesn’t eat oysters, she was given a lovely piece of tuna on a shiso leaf topped with something with a sesame flavor. The big bowl included several thick slices of various fresh fish. On the right was a chunk of poached Moroccan octopus with a mustardy sauce. Not shown is a flower pot filled with nori sheets for rolling around some of generous portion of Santa Barbara sea urchin. This was a very good, substantial, but not heavy, course.

“ShiiZakana” – Seventh Course
Washu Tajima Beef Hot Stone Grill
American Sea Eel and Yellow String Beans Tempura

 
The stone was preheated and then kept very hot by a fire underneath. Washu beef is a cross between Wagyu and Black Angus. It is heavily marbled. To cook it we took a bit of the little ball of fat and put it on the hot stone, followed immediately by a slice of beef. We quickly turned it, added some of the condiments and ate it still hot. We preferred the Mongolian salt to the fruity dark red sauce.


Although listed as part of the same course, the tempura was served after the beef. It wasn’t as crisp or hot as we would have liked, which frequently happens in Kaiseki meals. The eel had a mild flavor.

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We had finished our first bottle of sake, which had been dry, elegant and excellent with the early courses. Now we started a bottle of Nanago, which had a more body and an assertive flavor which would go well with the later courses.

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“Nimono” – Eighth Course
Hot Pot Soup with Duck, Tofu and Vegetables


The nimono is the obligatory simmered course. It is an excellent way to cook these leafy winter vegetables and tofu, but doesn’t seem to me to be the best for duck.

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“Tomezakana” – Ninth Course
Simmered Tender Leek and Asparagus Ohitashi
with Green Apple Vinegar Sauce

Ohitashi literally means “soused greens.” Simmered leek whites and marinated asparagus were soused with dashi seasoned with apple vinegar. There was a purée of green apples on top. This was quite elegant and provided some lightly acidic relief between the meat courses and the rice.

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“Oshokuji” – Tenth Course
Rice Cooked with “Surume” Squid
Served with Fisherman Style Miso Soup and Pickles


On top is the traditional earthenware pot in which the obligatory finishing rice dish is cooked. On the bottom is a serving of the rice and a bowl of the “fisherman” miso soup. In between are chopped nori for sprinkling on the rice and just one kind of pickle. The rice had a good, interesting flavor from the squid and nori. We were surprised when we were asked if we would like to take the unfinished rice home with us. We had assumed that the pot was not just for us. We didn’t accept, but probably should have. Later we saw several other diners leaving with paper bags.

Dessert
Hoji Tea Sorbet
Strawberry Rice Cake Anmitsu

The mochi balls with strawberries were sweet; they were offset by the astringency of the toasted green tea sorbet.
 

When we were finished, we walked to the back of the restaurant to meet the chef, Sono Chikara, 43, originally from Sapporo. We exchanged cards and had a brief chat.
 

Our meal was interesting with good ingredients and well-executed, varied traditional preparations. The pace was quite rapid at the start and then slowed down as the restaurant filled and the courses became more substantial. The noise level was quiet at the start, became very loud when the walk in counter was full and than eased off. The servers and the hostess were charming, helpful and efficient, which was important in making this a very enjoyable evening. We will be back to Kyo Ya.

Kyo Ya
94 East 7th Street
(between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)
New York 10009  
212-982-4140

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